VOL. 132 | NO. 45 | Friday, March 3, 2017
Titans Still Rebuilding After Years of Bad Draft Picks
BY DAVID CLIMER, Nashville Sports Correspondent
When wide receiver Kendall Wright was a healthy scratch for the Titans’ final game of the season, it further underscored why this franchise is still struggling to gain altitude in the NFL.
Another solid NFL Draft would give placekicker Ryan Succop (4) and the Tennessee Titans more momentum after a successful 2016 season that ended, unfortunately, with an injury to starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. General manager Jon Robinson had a good draft a year ago after his predecessor, Ruston Webster, rattled off four seasons of poor draft picks the Titans are still trying to recover from.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
In 2012, Wright was the team’s first-round draft pick. By the end of his fifth pro season, he couldn’t even get on the field.
Bottom line: On Ruston Webster’s watch as general manager in 2012-2015, the Titans drafted poorly. Looking back, too many of Webster’s draft picks wound up just like Wright – a healthy scratch.
That is food for thought as the Titans’ current regime prepares for the 2017 draft.
Jon Robinson, who replaced Webster in January 2016, drafted well last year. If he can do the same on April 27-29, the Titans should take another big step forward.
While there is enough blame to go around for the Titans’ tumble, Webster deserves the most criticism. As general manager, the draft was his baby. And he blew it.
This wasn’t like the old days of the organization when franchise founder Bud Adams commandeered the 2006 draft and ordered that Vince Young be selected with the third overall pick. Nor was it like the run from 2007-11 when Mike Reinfeldt was the general manager but coach Jeff Fisher exercised a heavy hand in personnel decisions.
When Reinfeldt was jettisoned after 2011, Mike Munchak’s first season as coach, Webster took over and had full rein of the draft and other personnel matters. Webster had a few hits (give him credit for making Marcus Mariota the No. 2 overall pick in 2015), but his overall draft performance was poor.
For my money, the first three rounds of the draft are where you make or break your team. You’re picking from the top 100 players in the entire draft. Pick wisely and you set up your team for success. Pick poorly and you’re dooming your team to failure.
Webster picked poorly. And here is why the Titans are still playing catch-up in terms of their roster:
2012: By the time the Titans hold organized team workouts in the spring, it is all but certain no members of the 2012 draft class will still be around. Wright is the poster child for what went wrong.
While Wright had his moments, he never had the kind of impact that you expect of the No. 20 overall pick.
Wright stunned us when he said he never had a playbook while starring in college at Baylor. He was a classic slot receiver but two different coaching staffs tried to use him on the perimeter much of the time.
Linebacker Zach Brown, the second-round pick in 2012, arrived with the reputation of being a freakish athlete who tried to make plays with his speed in order to avoid contact. While that proved to be wrong, he never found his spot with the Titans, in part due to injuries. But he led Buffalo in tackles this season.
The third-round pick in that draft, defensive tackle Mike Martin, was a workout warrior but simply didn’t have the size or quickness to make a significant impact. He was a bad pick at No. 82 overall.
2013: Munchak’s affection for big interior offensive linemen may have factored into the selection of guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick. Warmack had sparkling credentials from his college days at Alabama and became a starter, but he is far from a dominant player.
When the Titans failed to exercise their option for a fifth year on his contract, it signaled that Warmack’s time with the team was coming to a close. He played two games before suffering a thumb injury that ended his season.
Second-round pick Justin Hunter looked the part at wide receiver but lacked toughness and commitment. He never seemed to get over the torn ACL he suffered at the University of Tennessee.
Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, the third-round pick in 2013, often wound up as the foil for “Play of the Day” clips on ESPN. Wreh-Wilson had a knack for being in position to make plays but then failing to get a hand on the ball at the moment of truth. It drove his coaches nuts.
2014: When Webster picked Bishop Sankey in the second round (No. 54 overall), he thought he was getting the best running back in the draft, an every-down back who could run inside or outside while also serving as a threat in the passing game. It turned out to be a major whiff. Sankey was none of the above.
But give Webster credit for targeting left tackle Taylor Lewan in the first round. As he has matured, Lewan looks like a guy that can play a dozen years at a high level.
Webster traded the third-round pick but made good calls on defensive lineman DaQuan Jones in the fourth round and linebacker Avery Williamson in the fifth.
2015: No. 2 overall pick Mariota is becoming the face of the franchise and could grow into a star. But wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, despite some upticks as a rookie, struggled to adjust to the pro game and third-round pick Jeremiah Poutasi was a major reach.
In many ways, Poutasi represents what went wrong with Webster’s four drafts as Titans GM. Poutasi was identified as the answer to the Titans’ issues at right tackle. But most NFL franchises saw him as an interior lineman.
In either case, he was badly overvalued in the third round. The Titans tried him at guard but quickly gave up.
That’s it. Of the 12 players drafted in the first three rounds in 2012-15, only four were still on the Titans’ roster at the end of last season. By the start of the 2017 season, only two figure to be around – Mariota and Lewan.
That’s why Jon Robinson is still facing such a major rebuilding effort. He’s trying to overcome four bad drafts in just two years.
Reach David Climer at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DavidClimer.